Home / Music / Music Feature / Foreign Goods’ B~Free Reclaims Her Voice on ‘Ode 2 A Luv Affair’

Foreign Goods’ B~Free Reclaims Her Voice on ‘Ode 2 A Luv Affair’

Sep. 20, 2016
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest
Photo credit: Jovan Landry
If you were looking for a single gateway into Milwaukee’s music scene, you couldn’t do much better than Foreign Goods. Though they’ve only been around for about a year, they’re one of the city’s most purely generous bands: a 10-piece ensemble made up of some of the scene’s most connected players. Collectively they have ties to dozens of other acts; saxophonist and de facto band leader Jay Anderson alone has played for D’Amato, New Age Narcissism, New Boyz Club and a number of jazz combos. Every performance unfolds like a showcase of the sheer wealth of talent that Milwaukee has to offer.

This month, Foreign Goods released its first EP, Coronation, a live set recorded for a very receptive crowd at this year’s Summer Soulstice festival, and it’s a thrilling introduction to the group’s razor-tight fusion of jazz, hip-hop, soul and miscellanea (Anderson describes the band as “black American music,” a near-catchall phrase that frees the group from the expectations of any given genre). Anderson says they are planning on recording a studio album this winter, so we should be hearing a lot more from the group in the year to come.

But what’s most exciting about Foreign Goods (at least at this early point in their career) is the network they’re building. The group has given a platform to some exceptional musicians, including players from corners of the music scene that haven’t had nearly the same level of local exposure that hip-hop has, including R&B.

One of the group’s four singers, B~Free, will release her own album this month, a sophomore effort called Ode 2 A Luv Affair. Hopefully her ties to Foreign Goods will call a little extra attention to it because it’s exactly the kind of sophisticated, immaculately constructed R&B record the city hasn’t had much of a track record for producing until recently. B~Free sings with the almost Zen-like assurance of neo-singers like Musiq Soulchild and Dwele, while her crafty self-production recalls the warm, mellow thump of J Dilla.

As B~Free tells it, though, the record almost didn’t happen. She teaches music full time and like a lot of teachers, she tends to catch whatever illnesses her students bring to the classroom. “I started recording songs and writing material for the album in 2013, but later that year, around the wintertime, I contracted a mouth-and-throat disease from one of my students—I still don’t know which one—which was bad timing, because I developed it at the same time I had developed terrible pneumonia without knowing it,” she says. “It was literally the most pain I’ve been in my entire life.”

It took multiple ER and doctor’s visits before the problem was properly diagnosed, and by then, the damage had been done. “My doctor said my vocal chords were burned,” she said. So, she went into speech therapy. For months she barely talked and communicated primarily with a tablet. She did her best to keep up with her teaching duties. “I taught an entire concert without singing a note,” she marvels, but eventually she had to confront a frightening reality: “I needed surgery to remove the scar tissue from my vocal fold.”

“There were lots of moments where I didn’t think I’d ever be able to sing again, which was terrifying, because music is my livelihood. I was going to have my main creative outlet taken away,” she says. “That’s a vocalist’s nightmare. It changes the genetic makeup of your voice. It was like I had a brand new mouth, a brand new throat. I literally had to relearn how to sing.”

She says she sings different now and that she’s lost some of her range. Perhaps, but on Ode 2 A Luv Affair, she sure doesn’t sound like somebody who weathered extreme vocal trauma. Her voice is dulcet and almost weightless, gliding over these tracks effortlessly, like a jazzier Jill Scott.

On some level, she says, she’s thankful she went through the whole ordeal. “Obviously I wouldn’t want to experience that pain and fear again, but in a sense I’m glad it happened because it gave me time for reflection,” she said. “During all that time when I couldn’t sing, I was writing music instead, and during that time I was able to reframe the direction of the album. It wouldn’t have been the same if I’d finished it when I hoped to. It wouldn’t have felt as complete.”

Ode 2 A Luv Affair premieres on Monday, Sept. 26 on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify and other music streaming services. B~Free will play an album release show on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Company Brewing with Abby Jeanne, D’Amato, Kyndal J. Music, Klassik and DJ Moses at 10 p.m.


Now that controversial strategist Steve Bannon has left his administration, will Donald Trump begin to pivot to the center?

Getting poll results. Please wait...